Author Note: Originally written for X-Files University. Thanks to TwoSpooky (Birgit) for beta-reading.
Disclaimer: CSM, Fox Mulder, and Walter Skinner aren't mine (no such luck). We all know who they belong to; I'm just borrowing them, Chris. I promise to send them home after they have their milk and cookies.

Smoke Rings
by MJ
Rating: PG-13
Classification: VR (slash)
Spoilers: "The End"
Keywords: Mulder, Skinner, CSM, slash
Summary: CSM reviews his own files and finds some photographs in them.
Archive: MSSS/MKRA: yes; Gossamer: yes; Other: please ask

Smoke Rings
by MJ

"What is truth?" said Pilate, jesting. I sift through the papers on my table and find a collection of photographs; they are a collection of photographs of the one man I know who has never jested when asking that question. I know no one who has sought truth more fiercely than Fox Mulder, nor come closer to finding it, many times, or at least a semblance of it. Even I do not always know what the truth is, and I no longer have the urge to inquire. I am feeling my age.

I have had some of these photographs for years. My photograph of Fox and Samantha, the only one I have with Samantha's picture on it, taken when he was young and she four years younger. I have had it since my days in the military, since I first worked with Teena's husband Bill. I have other photographs as well. School photographs, with dates and ages on the back, sent by Teena. A high school photograph of his basketball team, Fox holding the team trophy. He was a very good-looking youth. He is particularly handsome now, but different from how he looked then. I am always surprised by, dare I say, his femininity. He is handsome, but hardly what we thought of as masculine when I was his age. Ah, college photographs. His first year at Oxford, posing in London. His rooms at Balliol. That horrible Phoebe he dated; if it had gone any further, I would have had to intervene, I understand. His roommate. Him and his roommate. A photograph of Fox and his roommate that I dare say Teena has never seen, and is probably well advised never to see. It is, alas... indiscreet. I can't recall how I got hold of it, but I certainly did not receive it in one of Teena's notes. I confess to being proud of the boy back then. I still am, in many ways. I couldn't be prouder if he were my own son...

More photographs. Pictures of him from early days in the FBI. At Quantico. With Jerry Lamana. With Diana Fowley -- hmm, another photograph Teena should never see. It's a very bad surveillance photograph, but rather... detailed; yes, detailed. With Dana Scully. Ah, the lovely Doctor Scully. I don't altogether agree with the romantic entanglements my charge has gotten himself into; Doctor Scully would be more my choice. But it's not my life, is it? Ah, photographs of Fox with Alex. On the job, off the job. A couple of particularly indiscreet ones here, but then, Alex is a bit of an exhibitionist, isn't he? He's certainly attractive enough, but I'm a bit sorry these were taken. I thought at the time that some nice, clear blackmail photos might be a wise investment; unfortunately, Alex makes them look more like stills from a Triple - X extravaganza. I should never have let him know we were going to take them. I'll save these, I think. Not because of Fox, but they could be a useful investment against my friend Krycek. And, of course, the surveillance photographs of Fox with Walter Skinner.

What shall I do with these? I really do not need blackmail material on either of them. Skinner has been useful to me, but I can no longer hold over him the threat of revealing his assistance to me to his lover; I believe that Fox already knows about that very well. There is no point in my blackmailing Fox, though my -- um -- "associates" fail to understand that. I have spent my life protecting the boy, even when he has been most inconvenient to my work. I have always been surprised that my associates have failed to notice that a man of my position, a highly trained professional killer and internal espionage expert, should invariably fail to take care of their problems with the young gentleman. I have my reasons, however. And they are my own reasons; I am never altruistic. I have no intention of exposing my charge's romance with his supervisor to their superiors. He is most useful to me right now in the situation he has been placed in already. I do not need his dismissal, or reassignment to a field office. I would rather that he worked for me. I have asked him to join me before. Jesus worked for his... mother's husband... and I am at least that close to Fox, am I not? But blackmail is not what will make him do my bidding, It may well be that nothing will.

These are very good photographs, if I do say so. Most surveillance photographs are rather poor, but the quality of these is startling. Fox is not only a handsome man now, he is also apparently fairly well-built. His friend Skinner is rather more so, I observe; he has quite a chest and upper back on him. Now, Walter Skinner is what we used to think of as being quite masculine. Back in my day, finding someone like him in photographs like these would have been very surprising. We didn't think that's what one of - well, you know - would look like. Life certainly has changed, hasn't it. These are rather better than some of the amateur work I have seen; not only is the quality good, but the parties are far more attractive than the average. If they had arranged to have these pictures taken themselves, they would probably be very happy with them. I suppose I shouldn't dwell on my young friend's attributes for so long; it seems vaguely... incestuous? I do know that Teena would fail utterly to appreciate these pictures of her son. She never will see them anyway; I know that. These pictures are of no earthly use to me; what shall I do with them?

Unfortunately, I fear that if I sent them to Fox or to his lover, they would insist on interpreting the matter as a hostile act. Too bad; I am certain that they would actually rather enjoy them. Fox has been with Skinner for months now, perhaps nearly a year; they seem to be quite serious about the situation. Why should they not have some amusement with these? Alas, I do not believe I can do it without provoking a heart attack in poor Skinner, and while he means nothing to me, that really would hurt Fox; therefore, it is unacceptable. Poor Fox; he has no idea of what I have done, and do, for him. Aside from saving his life, and that of his pretty red-haired partner, I have had informants put information into his hands. I have had other informants warn him of dangers. I have misled him, yes, for that is my job, but I have always seen that he has not been hurt, for that is my personal agenda. I even know how far his work has not been set back by that little incident in his office with an improperly extinguished cigarette butt near his files, and how much Jeffrey cannot actually harm him. I shall have to find something else to do with these photographs.

I am sincerely pleased that Fox is happy with his friend Skinner. I could think of lovers I would rather he had, but then, his life is not mine. I have an interest in his life, even a stake in it, but I cannot make his decisions for him. At least he has found someone; he can say that much about his life. I wish that I could make the same claim for mine. I thought once that I had found someone when I met Teena. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Keep hold of him, Fox. Whatever you do, whatever he does, don't let go of him if you're sure of yourself. That is the one lesson I learned from your mother, if I learned nothing else from her.

I am sincerely afraid I shall have to burn these photographs. I certainly do not want Alex to see them; he does so overreact when he discovers something he dislikes, and I do believe he thinks he has a claim on Fox. Jeffrey, of course, must never see them. He and Fox have no love for each other, but I will never give either the means to completely destroy the other. He may be my son, but I am not in a position to play favorites, and I shall not. There are rules to the game, especially when the players include your family.

Well, the photographs will go the way of the filing cabinet, I suppose. However, I do have the negatives. A photograph or two for my own collection, and Fox can decide whether he wants to make prints of the better pictures. I do hope he and his friend enjoy them; I would hate to have them go to waste. If I send them to Fox and to Skinner in a cigarette case, I'm sure I won't need to write a note.